The Bristol Festival of Ideas is, in my opinion, one of the very best things about our fine city. Established in 2004, the team curates a rolling calendar of several hundred events throughout the year, with a concentrated month of fascinating talks, walks, screenings and events specifically in May.
No topic is considered out of bounds by the Festival of Ideas, and in the past I’ve experienced everything from a PowerPoint presentation by Wayne Hemingway hilariously pulling hideous housing estates to pieces; a screening of the (almost) four-hours long Western movie Heaven’s Gate; and a debate between Howard Marks and Peter Hitchens on whether drugs should be legalised. And a whole raft of topics in between.
What I’m saying is that you should visit the website to get the full picture.
For now, here is my very edited selection of the cream of the crop from the Bristol Festival of Ideas and their May brochure. Enjoy… and don’t leave it too long to book as their events often sell out in advance.
Thursday, May 14
FOI say: “Some time between the ages of 40 and 50, you pass your life’s halfway point. For those who believe in youth culture, who were part of the 1990s rush that transformed Britain into an open-minded, hedonistic, artistic centre, this is more than a shock. It’s unthinkable. Middle age is for someone else, whether that’s Jeremy Clarkson or Victoria Wood.”
I say: “Miranda Sawyer was my career crush as a teenage wannabe journalist. I read her stuff in Smash Hits, The Face, The Observer and onwards. I forgave her the Daily Mail column. She influenced me more than any other writer. Read her book Park And Ride please. And go to see this talk. Do it.”
Thursday, May 21
FOI say: “Colm Tóibín is one of contemporary literature’s most critically acclaimed authors. He talks about his career and writing, in particular his new non-fiction work On Elizabeth Bishop, an introduction to the work and life of one of his most important literary influences—the American poet Elizabeth Bishop, and his eighth novel Nora Webster, which dramatises the life of a woman and her family in a small town in Ireland in the late 1960s.”
I say: “Colm Tóibín’s novels are extraordinary and fascinating. The characters he creates are people running, hiding and searching. He recreates past times as if both he and we lived through them, rather than reimagined them. His novels are beautiful but challenging. I love them.”
Friday, May 22
FOI say: In her bestselling autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn recalled the highs and lows of a thirty-year career in pop music. But with the touring, recording and extraordinary anecdotes, there wasn’t time for an in-depth look at what she actually did for all those years: sing. She sang with warmth and emotional honesty, sometimes while battling acute stage-fright. Part memoir, part wide-ranging exploration of the art, mechanics and spellbinding power of singing, Naked at the Albert Hall takes in Dusty Springfield, Dennis Potter and George Eliot; Auto-tune, the microphone and stage presence; The Streets and The X Factor.”
I say: “Tracey’s FOI event two years ago was one of the highlights of that year’s festival. She spoke to a packed out Arnolfini with wit, warmth and an endless raft of amazing stories from her drama-packed life. This event is going to sell out, so book your ticket pronto.”
Saturday, May 23
FOI say: “Every day, all around the world, women are reinventing what it means to be female in cultures where power, privilege or basic freedoms are all too often equated with being male. Caroline Criado-Perez, one of the most vocal and tenacious campaigners of her generation, talks about the first woman to cross the Antarctic alone; a female fighter pilot in Afghanistan; a climate change activist who scaled new heights; a Chilean revolutionary turned politician; the Russian punks who rocked out against Putin; and the Iranian journalist who dared to uncover her hair.”
I say: “She's Caroline Criado-Perez, people. What more do you need to know?!”
Saturday, May 23
Daughters of de Beauvoir
Daughters of de Beauvoir
FOI say: “Imogen Sutton’s prize-winning documentary interweaves Simone de Beauvoir’s life with those of the women she influenced through her life and work – in particular through The Second Sex. After the screening Ann Oakley and Angie Pegg, who contributed to the documentary, join Imogen Sutton and broadcaster Harriett Gilbert for a panel to discuss what Simone de Beauvoir’s writing means today.”
I say: “It’s important we keep people like Simone de Beauvoir alive in the minds of the new wave of feminists coming through, so that the influence and importance of her work is never forgotten. Her writing may not be the easiest to read, but the message is still critical.”
Thursday, May 28
FOI say: “England may be a small country on a small island, but its inhabitants have always had a boundless curiosity about the world beyond their shoreline. From the nation’s modern origins in the Renaissance, travellers have eagerly roamed the globe and been enticed by the diversity and richness of other civilisations. And while this appetite for adventure has often been tainted by aggression or exploitation, the English have also carried within them a capacity to soak up new experiences and ideas and to weave them into every aspect of life back home, from language and literature to customs and culture.”
I say: “I was lucky enough to hear Yasmin Alibhai-Brown speak at the Women of the World Festival in London two years ago and she was stunning with her calm and authoritative warmth. When asked an idiotic question from the audience, she took the speaker down in the best way possible. When asked a sensible question from the audience, she invited the speaker to contact her for real help.”
Saturday, May 30
FOI say: “For Hadley Freeman, American movies of the 1980s have simply got it all. Born in the late 1970s, Hadley grew up on a well-rounded diet of these movies, her entire view of the world, adult relations and expectations of what her life might hold was forged by these cult classics. She puts her obsessive movie geekery to good use, detailing the decade’s key players, genres and tropes, and how exactly the friendship between Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi influenced the evolution of comedy.”
I say: “Oh boy, this is going to be the most fun event of the whole festival. I would like to challenge Hadley to a quiz to find out which one of us has the best knowledge of 1980s movies… because it could be a close call. Hadley’s columns in The Guardian are one of the highlights of the whole paper, and her book Be Awesome was a pithy and smart call to arms for young women today.”
Monday, June 1
FOI say: “We all want the future to be fairer and happier. Journalist and writer Zoe Williams believes that we need to make that happen collectively. It’s not enough to sit back and watch as our NHS slides away from us; as the young and low earners are forced out of London; as hundreds of thousands of people nationally drift into poverty; as education becomes increasingly divided and as the wealthiest five people in Britain earn more than the poorest 20%.”
I say: “Another favourite writer from The Guardian, Zoe Williams knows her shit. And if reading her book and/or hearing her talk doesn’t inspire you to take action against a country falling into the gutter, frankly, nothing will.”